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Your electric vehicle questions answered

Can electric vehicles save you money? Do they hold a charge long enough for me to get to work and back? What if I need a charge on a long trip?

Those questions and others were answered Wednesday evening in Auburn at an “Electric Vehicle Awareness Event” hosted by Auburn University. The university’s Office of Sustainability invited electric vehicle (EV) car owners as well as experts from Alabama Power, the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition and Energy Alabama to show off various EV models and answer questions.

“The future is electric,” said Mike Kensler, director of Auburn University’s Office of Sustainability. “There are a lot of people interested who haven’t even seen electrics, and certainly haven’t talked to somebody that owns one, so what a great opportunity to partner with other folks around the state and bring this kind of event here so people can actually interact with owners and get answers from people who actually drive these cars.”

Auburn University hosts electric vehicle awareness event from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

One of the most common questions asked related to range anxiety, a term describing fears an EV will not have enough of a charge to reach the driver’s intended destination. Rod Cater, community relations manager for Alabama Power, says the driving range of EVs has dramatically improved in the past five to 10 years.

“The range used to be about 50 miles,” Cater said. “It’s now upwards of 250 to 300 and in some cases even approaching 400 miles, so the range anxiety that consumers in the past have had is really beginning to narrow.”

Mark Bentley, executive director of the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition, agrees. He left Birmingham Wednesday afternoon with 298 miles of range capacity on his Tesla Y. He arrived in Auburn with 177 miles remaining.

“I could go over to Auburn Mall and charge it before I drive home, but I’ve got plenty of charge to get back without doing that,” Bentley said. “Having said that, range anxiety is real, so we are working with the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) and our state agencies and the governor’s office to work on more EV charging stations on interstates, U.S. highways, destinations, as well as evacuation routes. It is our objective to formulate a plan to take range anxiety off the table.”

Much of that plan centers on finding more funding. ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell told Alabama NewsCenter earlier this month the most recent EV charging station expansion project in the state had $4.2 million to spend and $18.2 million worth of requests. Those requests could be funded through an infrastructure bill pending in Congress that would allocate $7.5 billion to expand charging stations throughout the country.

“Money talks,” Bentley said. “We have worked with the Federal Highway Administration to be sure that our interstates are designated as EV corridors. The EV corridor approach will give us the opportunity to garner federal monies when it becomes available and they decide to put together a program and roll it out. We’re in great position to get more money for infrastructure and other ancillary things around EVs.”

Having said that, Bentley says studies show that 80 percent of EV charging is done at home.

“You don’t have to go to a gas station,” Bentley said. “You just plug it in at night as I do and walk away.”

Cater agrees, adding that Alabama Power offers an optional rate rider for customers with a plug-in EV, encouraging them to charge their EV at a discounted rate during off-peak hours of 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.

“Most people can put in a 120-volt or 240-volt charger and they’re able to charge their car to a full charge overnight,” Cater said. “They are ready to go the next morning.”

Benefits of electric vehicles

Among the most popular reasons for switching to an EV is lower operating costs.

“They’re economical,” Bentley said. “The price for ‘fuel’ on an electric gallon (eGallon) is about 25 percent of the cost of gas. So for 200 miles, that’s $6 vs. $22 based on Alabama Power rates and also the prevailing gas rates from AAA.”

Maintenance costs are also much lower since EVs require no oil and have fewer moving parts.

“The only thing I put in my Model Y is water for the window wipers,” Bentley said. “That’s it.”

Carbon emissions are also reduced, due to the lack of a combustion engine in the vehicle and the clean fuel options employed by electric utilities.

“In Alabama, hydro and compressed natural gas makes most of the electricity in our state,” Bentley said. “So, bar none on any basis, EVs are cleaner than any gas or diesel vehicle.”

That’s great news for people like Kensler who are in charge of implementing sustainability goals for their businesses and organizations.

“We (at Auburn University) have a commitment to be carbon neutral by 2050,” Kensler said. “One of the things we have to do is to get off of fossil fuels. Driving electric – there is zero emission, and so it makes a huge difference in terms of air quality, what people breathe, in terms of the heating of the planet, in terms of impact on wildlife and communities – it’s a win-win. There’s no downside to electric vehicles when it comes to sustainability.”

Kensler adds that EVs and sustainability efforts also create jobs, pointing to this week’s announcement by Ford of its plans to build an EV “mega campus” in Tennessee and twin battery plants in Kentucky, creating 11,000 jobs. Similar economic development projects are underway in Alabama, where Mercedes-Benz U.S. International (MBUSI) in Tuscaloosa County is investing $1 billion to prepare for EV production, Honda has announced a global plan to be all-electric by 2040, Hyundai is investing $7.4 billion globally to build EVs and the nation’s first large-scale graphite processing plant for a key element in EV batteries is being built in Coosa County.

“I think in 10 years we’re going to be amazed at how the transition has occurred so rapidly,” Kensler said. “It impacts everybody in a positive way.”